London Corresponding Society

The London Corresponding Society was founded on 25 January 1792. The creators of the group were John Frost (1750-1842), an attorney, and Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker and metropolitan Radical. The aim of the society was parliamentary reform, especially the expansion of the representation of working class people.

In common with the other corresponding societies its membership was predominantly drawn from artisans and working men: early members included Joseph Gerrald, Francis Place, Edward Marcus Despard, Maurice Margarot and Olaudah Equiano. The London Corresponding Society had affiliates in Manchester, Norwich, Sheffield and Stockport.

As well as campaigning for the vote, the strategy was to create links with other reforming groups in Britain. Thomas Hardy was appointed as treasurer and secretary of the organisation. The society passed a series of resolutions and after being printed on handbills, they were distributed to the public. These resolutions also included statements attacking the government's foreign policy. A petition was started and by May 1793, 6,000 members of the public had signed saying they supported the resolutions of the London Corresponding Society.

[LCS Resolutions January 1793]

Three hundred and forty-seven listed members included
  • forty-three shoemakers
  • twenty-seven weavers
  • twenty-four tailors
  • nineteen in the watch trade (specifically, two watch case makers, a watch face painter, a watch spring maker, ten watchmakers, a clock case maker and four clock makers)
  • two mathematical instrument makers
By the summer of 1793 the London Corresponding Society had made contact with parliamentary reform groups in Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby, Stockport and Tewksbury. They also had meetings with the Society for Constitutional Information, an organisation formed by Major John Cartwright. At the end of 1793 Thomas Muir and the supporters of parliamentary reform in Scotland began to organise a convention in Edinburgh. The Society sent two delegates Joseph Gerrald and Maurice Maragot, but the men and other leaders of the convention were arrested and tried for sedition. Several of the men, including Gerrald and Maragot, were sentenced to fourteen years transportation.

The reformers were determined not to be beaten and Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall began to organise another convention. When the authorities heard what was happening, Hardy and the other two men were arrested and committed to the Tower of London and charged with high treason. The men's trial began at the Old Bailey on 28th October, 1794. The prosecution, led by Lord Eldon, argued that the leaders of the London Corresponding Society were guilty of treason as they organised meetings where people were encouraged to disobey King and Parliament. However, the prosecution was unable to provide any evidence that Hardy and his co-defendants had attempted to do this and the jury returned a verdict of "Not Guilty".

The government continued to persecute supporters of parliamentary reform. Habeas Corpus was suspended in 1794, enabling the government to detain prisoners without trial. In 1797 Samuel Romilly successfully defended John Binns, against a charge of seditious words.

The Seditious Meetings Act made the organisation of parliamentary reform gatherings extremely difficult. Finally, in 1799, the government persuaded Parliament to pass a Corresponding Societies Act. It was now illegal for the London Corresponding Society to meet and the organisation came to an end.